Team building from City Challenge
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High Performing Teams
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High Performing Team

Characteristics of a High Performing Team

Whether a business, sports or family group, a team that works together is not just a chance event. At City Challenge we know that peak performance comes from developing the individuals to get the best out of themselves while applying that in the best way to the team endeavour.

Teams do not operate in a vacuum, more a dynamic system. Whether participating in a City Challenge or engaged in their normal work activity, teams need to be aware of three aspects of that system: the task, the process for achieving the task and the climate (environment and atmosphere) within which the task will be done. And not just aware of, but be able to develop in all three aspects for true team building.

Teams that can do that are high performing and display a number of key characteristics:

  • Clearly state mission and goals

    By stating their mission and goals, the team is given long-term vision and short-term motivation. These are needed to both inspire people and focus their effort. On a City Challenge, the high performing teams go further than just setting a compelling vision; they ensure that personal and team objectives are aligned to guarantee personal motivation.

    With high-level expectations clarified, the mission and goals now inform the team's activities and decisions.

  • Make objective decisions and focus on results

    A high performing team is one that understands the results they are aiming for and therefore the purpose of a decision and the criteria for success. They bring objectivity by considering the task, the process and the climate, as well as the impact on themselves and others involved.

    Above all, they know the power of intention. The difference between our true intention and what we produce as outcomes can be widely different. For example, City Challenge participants invariably say that they intend to build closer relationships by getting to know their colleagues, but then get bogged down in the task; the latter being their real intent however much they deny or disguise it. In high performing teams there is little mismatch between what individuals say and what they do. This means decisions are results oriented and the cycle time of decision-making is greatly reduced.

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities; is well organised

    This is achieved by appreciating each other's strengths, development needs and personal motivations for team membership, which enables the team to structure the deployment of resources to accomplish the goals.

    On a City Challenge event, agreeing roles may be less obvious and more creative than arranging them around individuals' technical strengths, customary activity or leadership title, all of which may keep team members rooted in their comfort zones. Contribution of personal qualities such as calmness under pressure, may reveal what an individual can lead on during a Challenge. Moreover, high performing teams are mindful of challenging themselves and others to continuously improve the way they operate and of challenging their willingness and ability to change. So we encourage people to develop leadership by taking a risk and stepping out of their comfort zones.

    Just as high performing teams require individual members to look at their current contribution and the contribution they want to make, our facilitators also encourage this so that there is choice as well as acknowledgement of the roles agreed. In this way the team take joint responsibility for individual and team objectives, which is crucial for team building.

  • Develop team morale and operate creatively

    Regardless of the context or the challenge, high performing teams know how to build team spirit and motivation. From the many City Challenge events run to date, facilitators have observed that team morale may be a function of humour, trust, respect, recognition and good leadership among other things, and can always be felt. Asking what each team member has energy for is a positive step in raising or maintaining morale and for team building.

    Where morale and confidence are high, a team is more likely to use their initiative and to think laterally as well as logically to create workable solutions (a tip for those who haven't yet tried a Challenge!)

  • Build on individuals' strengths; support and share leadership

    Leaders inspire people to work together to achieve a goal. To quote Gerard Egan, one leadership guru 'An organisation with only one leader is short on leadership.'

    High performing City Challenge teams recognise the power of sharing leadership in team building, versus leadership based purely on hierarchy. They know how to support and share leadership based on skills such as drawing, strengths such as map reading and qualities such as openness and know how to pass the leadership baton. So it is important to be aware of one's own and others leadership abilities as well as development needs. Seeing each other with fresh eyes is key to seeing the leadership potential in team members.

  • Communicate openly and resolve conflict

    Conflict is a natural part of the team lifecycle and should not be avoided. A City Challenge event may mirror some of the conflicts that arise in the workplace, such as the pressure of deadlines and targets and differences of approach. Being open and honest and appreciating team members' intention is an essential part of working through conflict in a constructive fashion.

    However openness and honesty between team members and others can itself feel challenging - challenging to do and challenging to receive. High performing City Challenge participants know that openness and honesty are necessary for team building and for the team to be truly productive. They do not get trapped in their defensiveness, which can kick in when feedback is testing, time is short or there are differences of opinion. Instead, these individuals work towards clarifying the true intention behind the feedback or action in order to build relationships while getting the job done.

  • Evaluate team effectiveness

    Finally high performing teams are able to improve themselves within and beyond the context of a task. This means that they review progress against business objectives in conjunction with a review of personal performance, team process and climate. They are likely to ask: what do the team's results say about our motivation, decisions and true intentions? Did we build relationships or did we get the job done without a care for the people involved? Candor is key to continuous improvement.

    At City Challenge we advocate asking other simple questions like "what was the process like?", "how may we improve this?", "what have I learnt?" and "what does this mean for us going forward?" Sharing feedback and praise between team members continues the learning and maintains the human connection, essential for ongoing team building.

    None of this is rocket science, in fact it's elementary. In short, at City Challenge we notice that high performing teams get the fundamentals right!

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    Stacey Holden
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